Native American Rituals

Rituals had an important position in the Native American culture. The Native Indian tribes performed various rituals to appease the gods, celebrate an event, or simply as a part of a specific festival.

Each ritual served a specific purpose. Following are some of the most popular rituals performed by Native American tribes.

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance was one of the most prevalent rituals among Native Indians. Most, if not all, tribes practiced it in some form.

In the Sun Dance, a pole was erected with a rope and hooks at the end of the rope. A warrior then inserted the hooks in his chest and danced around the pole for a long time. The dance could continue for several days. It came to an end after the warrior was completely exhausted or if the hooks ripped out of the warrior’s chest.

According to Native Americans, the dance was performed to please the Sun god and seek his blessings.

Ghost Dance

Another popularly known Native American ritual was the Ghost Dance. This particular ritual became popular as a result of spiritual and cultural revival among Native Indians in the late 19th century.

The ritual was started by an Indian holy man who claimed that by practicing this dance, Indians could drive the white man out of their lands.

During the dance, members of a tribe danced in circle, imitating the dance of the dead. They believed that by dancing in this way, they could summon the spirits of their dead ancestors to fight on their behalf and help them.

Vision Quest

A vision quest was often a ritual that served as a rite of passage for young men. Young men in most Native American tribes went on this quest to prove their character and find their purpose.

During the quest, the young men left the tribe and went into the wilderness. They spent several days in the wilderness and didn’t eat or drink anything.

They also tried to avoid sleep and stay awake. Some of them then received visions or signs which they believed came from the spirits and showed them their purpose in life.


Lacrosse was a kind of stick-ball game which was one of the most fun Native American rituals. This ritual served many purposes – it fostered unity within a tribe; it allowed the men and women to show their strength and skill; it was also thought to please the gods.

The game was played by a large number of people, sometimes as much as 1000 people stretched over several kilometers of prairie land. They used sticks to catch a ball and then throw it, pretty much like the modern-day game of lacrosse which evolved from this Native American ritual.


‘Run the gauntlet’ has become a well-known phrase today. This phrase is actually inspired from the Native American ritual of ‘Gauntlet’.

Gauntlet is a ritual which was performed to punish the guilty member of a tribe for some crime he or she had committed. In this ritual, two rows of warriors stood facing each other and holding sticks.

The guilty person had to run between the rows. As he or she ran, the warriors on both sides whipped the person with sticks as punishment for their crimes.